Book Review: An Unwanted Guest

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

First line: The road curves and twists unexpectedly as it leads higher and deeper into the Catskill Mountains, as if the farther you get from civilization, the more uncertain the path.

Summary: For the guests of Mitchell’s Inn in the Catskill Mountains it looks like a beautiful winter weekend. However, when a body of one of the guests is found at the bottom of the stairs on the first morning things become less idyllic. Add to that a power outage from an ice storm and the guests begin to fear for their safety since there appears to be a murderer staying at the hotel.

Highlights: I recently read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. As I started reading An Unwanted Guest I was comparing the two novels. A remote location, a group of strangers, no way to leave and murder! How can you not go wrong with a combination like this? I found the story fun and engaging. Each character was interesting and had little secrets of their own. The idea of being stuck in a hotel with strangers and no electricity while a murderer is on the loose is a bit terrifying. I wish I could have read this during the winter wrapped in a blanket. I liked the atmosphere and suspense. This was a quick read and lots of fun.

Lowlights: I was a little shocked by the ending. However, I thought that when the killer was revealing everything it was a little rushed and quickly thrown together. It did not seem like it was planned out or given too much thought.

FYI: Read the author’s other two books, The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House.

Book Review: The Last Time I Lied

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

First line: This is how it begins.

Summary: When Emma Davis is asked to return to Camp Nightingale it brings many memories and fears to mind. One summer, fifteen years before, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale and the three girls from her cabin all disappeared. Now as an artist on the rise, she continues to paint the missing girls Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Maybe going back will help Emma get past her demons and find out what truly happened to the girls of Dogwood cabin.

“I want to go inside, look around, see what memories it dredges up. That’s why I’m here, after all. Yet when I twist the doorknob, I realize my hand is shaking. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Ghosts, I suppose.”

Highlights: Sager’s latest novel is one of nostalgia for me. Having attended a summer camp near a large lake and cabins with no AC, this brought back many memories for me. The uncomfortable nights where everything is hot and sticky, canoeing on the lake, campfires and crafts. My sister, my cousins and I attended Quaker Haven Camp in Northern Indiana for two summers. We loved every minute of it. We made friends, crafts and memories. Even at church camp, you hear the stories of some creepy man that stalks the woods or a ghost that kidnaps children. This is what summer was as a kid at camp.
I could picture Camp Nightingale as clear as day. As Emma looks deeper into the events of fifteen years before she slowly reveals more memories that she has kept hidden. The author leads us in many different directions to keep us guessing. I loved the mystery of the lake. With each new tidbit, I was even more intrigued.
The ending was not what I expected. It wrapped up, we got the mystery solved but then…that ending! Holy cow! My chest was tight. My heart was pounding. I had to set the book down and breathe after the last page. The fact that Sager once again got a five star review from me is astounding. I cannot wait for his next book.

Lowlights: The only downfall was that I could not be reading this in a lawn chair on the shores of Dewart Lake in Indiana. That would have made this perfect.

FYI: This is the perfect book to take on a weekend trip to the lake!

Book Review: The Elizas

The Elizas by Sara Shepard

First line: I’m screaming as I wake up.

Summary: When Eliza Fontaine, a debut author, is found at the bottom of a pool her family believes that she has tried again to commit suicide. Eliza knows that she was pushed into the pool but cannot remember who pushed her. As she looks deeper into the incident, she learns more secrets have been kept from her. Why is everyone assuming that her upcoming book is a parallel with her life? It is fiction. Or is it?

Highlights: I liked the mystery and fast pace of the second half of the novel. I kept thinking the story was finished but a new twist was added digging deeper into the mystery. The cover was really pretty as well. I really enjoy reading Sara Shepard’s books. She can write a fun story that keeps me coming back for more. Dorothy was a very interesting character. She is flamboyant and eccentric. She added a little fun and spice to the story.

Lowlights: The first half of the novel was slow moving. I nearly gave up on it. I did not like the intertwining with Eliza’s book but as the story progressed, it grew on me. And Desmond was not a character I liked or connected with.

FYI: Check out her Pretty Little Liars series!

Early April new releases

Cover of The Female Persuasion by Meg WolitzerApril 3: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
From Goodreads: “Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer- madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place- feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Cover of Dread Nation by Justina IrelandApril 3: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (young adult)
Zombies, Gettysburg, and combat schools to put down the dead. What’s not to love? It’s the Civil War, and at the battles of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, the dead begin to walk, completely derailing the war and changing the country forever. The safety of the country’s citizens lies in the hands of a relatively few people. New laws require certain people to attend combat schools where they learn to put down the dead. And for Jane McKeene, this means more opportunity than she would have had otherwise as she studies to become an Attendant, and trains in weaponry and etiquette to prepare to protect the well-to-do.

Cover of A Necessary Evil by Abir MukherjeeApril 3: A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
In this followup to A Rising Man, Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant “Surrender-Not” Banerjee are called upon to solve the mystery of the assassination of the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Sambalpore. Prince Adhir was a moderniser, but his attitudes and romantic relationship may have upset the religious elements of his country. But the new heir, Prince Adhir’s brother, appears to be an irresponsible playboy. As Wyndham and Banerjee work to untangle the mystery of the murder, they find themselves in a race to find the murderer before the murderer finds them.

Cover of Macbeth by Jo NesboApril 5: Macbeth by Jo Nesbo (Hogarth Shakespeare)
Famed crime writer Jo Nesbo tackles the classic story of Macbeth. From Goodreads: “Set in a dark, rainy northern town, Nesbo’s Macbeth pits the ambitions of a corrupt policeman against loyal colleagues, a drug-depraved underworld and the pull of childhood friendships. Get ready to helter-skelter through the darkest tunnels of human experience.

Cover of Circe by Madeline MillerApril 10: Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe is the daughter of a Titan, but without the powers of either her mother or her father. Because she is such a strange child, she turns to the mortal world for companionship, where she learns she is not powerless. She discovers that she possesses the power of witchcraft, which allows her to transform her rivals into monsters. Threatened by this discovery, Zeus banishes Circe to a deserted island, but this just allows Circe to hone her craft.

Cover of Love and Other Words by Christina LaurenApril 10: Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
A then-and-now story of love. Macy is a pediatrics resident who is busy planning her wedding to a financially secure older man. She has a plan — keep her head down and her heart tucked away. Then she runs into Elliott, the love of her life, around whom her whole world used to revolve. From the teenage Elliott and Macy who grow from friends to much more, to the adult Elliott and Macy who have become strangers until their chance reunion, this story explores what happens when love gets a second chance.

 

Late March new releases

Happy first day of spring! OK, so it’s kind of gloomy and gray and cool outside today, but still. Spring! It’s officially here even if it doesn’t much look or feel like it. That means temperatures will eventually be warming and it will be easier (and more comfortable!) to spend time outside.

When the weather warms up, where’s your favorite outdoor location to read? Tell us in the comments. In the meantime, since spring is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts, here is a list of great new books for spring reading.

March 20: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James
If you are a fan of creepy gothic novels, Simone St. James serves up just the right flavor. In Vermont in 1950, Idlewild Hall was a boarding school for girls—the girls no one knew what to do with. Four of these girls bond over their shared fear, and then one of them disappears. In Vermont in 2014, Idlewild Hall is an abandoned ruin, where 20 years earlier, the body of journalist Fiona Sheridan’s murdered sister was found. Despite a trial and conviction in the case, Fiona can’t shake the idea that something more is going on.

March 20: Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
From the author of Still Alice comes this story of Richard, an accomplished concert pianist who now suffers from ALS, and his ex-wife, Karina, who reluctantly agrees to become his caretaker. As Richard’s disease and paralysis progress, and Karina struggles with her own past including her divorce from Richard, the couple works to reconcile their past and find peace before it’s too late.

March 27: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
A new take on a favorite Russian mystery: Did Anastasia survive the executions of her family in 1918 by Bolshevik police? And was Anna Anderson actually Anastasia? In Lawhon’s story, a young woman is pulled from a freezing canal in Berlin. She bears an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov. Her body is covered with horrible scars. When she finally speaks, she claims to be the duchess. Told from both Anastasia’s point of view before the executions, and Anna’s point of view in reverse chronology, the story spans more than 50 years.

March 27: The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Hamel
Do you still love reading novels about WWII? There have been so many good ones recently, and this one is one more to add to your list. Meet American newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit who has come to France with her French husband; Charlotte Dacher, who is 11 when German forces roll into the French capital; and Thomas Clarke, who joins the British Royal Air Force out of a sense of patriotism. The paths of these three cross in Paris, where they will work together against the Nazi forces that have invaded the city.

March 27: Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter (young adult)
Maddie’s dad used to be head of the Secret Service. But now they live in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with no phone and no internet. Then Logan, Maddie’s former best friend, and son of the president, suddenly shows up—six years later. And when he does, so does an unknown assailant who pushes Maddie off a cliff and kidnaps Logan. Maddie really wants to kill Logan after everything he’s put her through, but she has to rescue him first.

March 27: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
A king drains his island kingdom of nearly all its magic leaving it vulnerable to enemy nations, which now surround it, waiting for the time to strike and gain a valuable trading port. The king’s three daughters know that a new sovereign must be chosen to save the kingdom and restore its magic, but the king won’t choose an heir until the longest night of the year. So the daughters prepare for battle.

Early March new releases

I love spring! I know it’s not here yet, but these glimpses of warmth and sunshine we’ve had recently are such a breath of fresh air after days of cold and gray.

That’s how a new book feels to me—like a breath of fresh air! I walk past the display of new books in the front of the library, and it seems to call to me. And because of that, I can’t walk by it too often, or I’ll find myself buried in new books that are just begging to be read!

I hope you’ll possibly find some books on this list (that will be released this week and next) that call out to you. If you read any of these titles, be sure to pop back over here and let us know what you thought!

Cover of The Last Equation of Isaac SeveryMarch 6: The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs
A book about books is always going to grab my attention, and I am looking forward to reading this one. Hazel, owner of a struggling bookstore, gets a letter from her grandfather, a mathematician,  just a few days before his apparent suicide. The letter asks Hazel to entrust his final bombshell equation to a trusted colleague of his, before a secretive organization can find it. Hazel must decipher a set of clues her grandfather left in her favorite novel to find the equation, and she learns that if she fails, disastrous consequences will affect the entire family.

March 6: All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church
Vegas showgirls. In the 1960s. At 8, Lily Decker unexplainedly survives the car accident that takes the lives of her mother and father. Raised by her aunt and uncle, dance becomes her solace. When she is grown and ready to leave home for good, she changes her name to Ruby Wilde and goes to Las Vegas to become a troupe dancer. However, she lands work as a showgirl instead. She look like a success story, in her elaborate costumes and 5-inch heels, but like every other girl in Vegas, she has to learn how to navigate the world of men she works in and she has to figure out what true love really is.

Cover of The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto UrreaMarch 6: The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
A Mexican-American immigrant story by the author of “Into the Beautiful North,” Wichita area’s Big Read selection of a few years ago. Miguel Angel De La Cruz, beloved family patriarch, is ailing, and before he dies, calls for one last legendary birthday party. In the days leading up to the party, his mother also dies, so now it’s a double farewell. For one weekend in San Diego, the De La Cruz family revisits the many tales that have been passed down in family lore. NOTE: Luis Alberto Urrea will be in Wichita to discuss this book at 6 p.m. March 22 at Watermark Books.

March 13: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Amber Reynolds wakes up in a hospital, in a coma, and she can hear everyone around her. From Goodreads: “Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

Cover of Islandborn by Junot DiazMarch 13: Islandborn by Junot Diaz (picture book)
Lola’s school is one of children from everywhere, but she can’t remember the island she came from. When her teacher asks the children to draw a picture of where they came from , everyone but Lola is excited.  But her family and friends share their memories, and as they do so, Lola’s imagination takes her on a wonderful journey back to The Island.

Book Review: Everless

Everless by Sara Holland

First line: Most people find the forest frightening, believing the old tales of fairies who will freeze the time in your blood, or witches who can spill your years out over the snow with only a whisper.

Summary: In a world where blood is time and time is currency, resides Jules Ember. She is a young girl determined to save her father’s life by returning to the Everless estate in order to earn more blood irons (the currency that can add days to years onto a persons life). However, when her father dies at the gates of Everless Jules becomes entangled in a mystery about her past and the family she has been serving.

Highlights: The idea of blood being transformed into currency but can also be consumed to add more time to a person’s lifespan is very intriguing. I never would have considered this premise but it is fascinating to think about. I liked the twist at the end. I figured out several pieces but many of them were great details that added to the mystery. This is a typical dystopian YA novel but it still feels fresh and new.

Lowlights: Being a reader of YA I could easily predict several plot points.  There are similarities to books such as Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.

FYI: Book 1 in a series!

Late February new releases

Feb. 20: The French Girl by Lexie Elliott
Six close friends from Oxford spend what they hope will be the perfect summer getaway together in a farm house in France. And it is, until they meet the girl next door — Severine. For Kate, Severine is an unwelcome presence, who undermine’s the groups loyalties. Kate knows that after a huge blow-up on the last night of the the holiday, that things are not ever going to be the same. Some actions are unforgivable and some people are unforgettable, even if they are never seen again. But a decade later, Severine’s body is found. Suspicion begins to swirl around Kate, who finds herself buried in deception and has no one to help her get free.

Feb. 20: The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch
The latest in Charles Finch’s Charles Lenox mystery series takes the reader back to Lenox’s first case in 1850. Lenox is struggling to make a name for himself as a private detective, and Scotland Yard refuses to take him seriously. An anonymous letter sent to the newspaper is from a person who claims to have committed the perfect crime, and in the letter they promise to kill again. Lenox believes this is his chance to prove himself. The killer’s sights end up set on those closest to Lenox, and he ends up in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Feb. 27: The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani DasGupta
Kiranmala is just a normal New Jersey sixth grader when she wakes up on her 12th birthday. Then her parents disappear and a demon blasts through her kitchen trying to eat her alive. Her parents had often told Kiranmala fantastical stories — like that she was really an Indian princess. Then, two swoon-worthy Indian princes show up at her door trying to rescue her. Now she’s sucked into another dimension: one full of magic and mythical creatures and magical maps. She has to solve riddles and avoid demons and try to avoid the things that want to kill her, while trying to find her parents and basically save New Jersey.

Feb. 27: The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus
Typically, the movie comes after the book, but in this case it’s the other way around. The highly rated movie, which is still out in theaters, was released a couple of months ago. Critics have said that director Guillermo del Toro was “at his visually distinctive best” with this film. He has joined forces with author Daniel Kraus to tell this love story in novel form. Elisa Esposito is mute, and works as a janitor in a research center in 1962. One night she sees a creature she isn’t supposed to, and it eventually becomes her sole reason for living. io9 says in its review that the movie and the book tell this spectacular story in two very different ways.

Feb. 27: The Hush by John Hart
This book takes the reader back to the world Hart introduced in The Last Child. But you don’t have to read that book before you read this one. Johnny lives alone, 10 years after the events that changed his life. Books have been written about his exploits, and people are curious, but Johnny works hard to maintain his privacy. His one connection to his past is with his childhood friend, Jack. Jack senses danger in the lands Johnny lives on, but Johnny doesn’t want to discuss it.

Book Review: The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

First line: Her husband’s almost home.

Summary: Dr. Anna Fox, is a psychologist who lives alone and has not been outside her home in ten months. She spends her days online, drinking LOTS of wine, taking a wide variety of medications and spying on her neighbors. When a new family moves in next-door, she becomes engrossed in their lives but then she sees something one night but no one believes her. Did it really happen?

Highlights: Short chapters are one of my favorite things. The story moves very quickly. Little tidbits are mixed in enlightening the reader about Anna’s background and what made her a recluse. I love that she gives names and narrates the lives of her neighbor. In addition, Anna is a huge movie buff but mainly black and white movies. She quotes lines from old Hitchcock classics. The book gives the feel of Rear Window. I was home sick in bed while reading this one and the cabin fever was starting to set in. It felt like the perfect book for a sick day. While reading you question everything you read. Is Anna a reliable narrator? Can I trust her version of events? I kept coming up with more twisted and complicated scenarios. The book is very hard to put down. Since finishing, I have found a list of the movies mentioned throughout the plot. Now I have a pile of DVDs to watch!

Lowlights: I was able to decipher several of the plot twists since I have started reading much more in this genre. Even with this, I still found the ending satisfying and fun.

FYI: Pair with an old Jimmy Stewart movie!

Book Review: The English Wife

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

First line: “They say he’s bankrupted himself rebuilding the house—all for her, of course.”

Summary: When Bayard Van Duyvil is found dead with a knife in his chest and his wife, Annabelle is missing, speculation starts around the happy couple. Did Annabelle kill her husband? Who is she anyway? The whirlwind romance and quick marriage to an English woman brings gossip and questions to the New York society. Janie, Bay’s sister, is determined to find out who killed her brother and clear her sister-in-law’s name.

Highlights: I am a huge fan of Lauren Willig and her books. She can write a good mystery with well-developed characters. I really liked the character of Georgie/Annabelle. She has a twisted past that is slowly revealed through the story. Her relationship with Bay was one of my favorite parts. I enjoyed their interactions and the way that their relationship changed. The rules and etiquette of society were so annoying but I believe very real for the time. Divorce and gossip were game changers for people of the upper classes. The old money hated the new money. There is a plenty of detail about the period making it easy for me as a reader to understand and be transported into the story. The ending shocked me. I was not expecting the story to wrap up the way it did but it was perfect. As I read another review, they compared it to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I think this is a great comparison.

Lowlights: The switching between 1899 and 1894 got a little confusing at different points. I am not always good about reading the little notes at the beginning of the chapter detailing when and where the story is taking place. It is very important in this book. In the middle, the story seemed to hit a lull. It was all about building up to the climax at the end.

FYI: Another win for Lauren Willig! If you like this, check out her Pink Carnation series. They are fantastic.